future startup logo

Mohan Belani on the making of E27, the future of media business, the importance of trying things, great founders, and a good life

Mohan Belani is the founder and CEO of E27, a Singapore-based Pan-Asia tech ecosystem platform. Mohan and his team have built a Pan-Asia ecosystem platform in a time when the media business is considered one of the most challenging verticals. From a small team of four, E27 today is a team of close to 30 people and has grown to become a leading business matching and tech ecosystem platform for startups, corporates, and investors in Southeast Asia. 

This conversation with Mohan is one of my best interviews in recent times. It is raw, sublime, retrospective, and full of directional insights. We talk about Mohan’s journey to what he is doing today, how E27 came into being, the early days of the company, the trial and tribulations of the early days, his lessons from those days, the state of E27 today, and the ambition going forward, building media companies in today’s environment, future of media business, his takes on what makes a great founder, self-reflection as a personal growth strategy, life as a journey of making meaning, life-changing books, why leaving our ego is important for our work and growth and much more. 

This is a brilliant read in its entirety. Enjoy! 

Ruhul Kader: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. What are you busy with these days? 

Mohan Belani: Thank you for having me. 

My primary focus is E27, which is my main business. I'm quite lucky to have a good team that is running most of the day-to-day operations. I spend my time mostly doing big-picture things. 

What keeps me busy on that part is that we are looking forward to like six months from now where the world will be, where will the business be, what are the new things we need to start to build or prepare for, and new opportunities to tap on, etc. 

For example, the recession was my focus in Q1. I was busy preparing for it so that we could be ready. But now it's all about what the next year is going to look like, where the focus should be, where we should invest, and how as an organization we are going to be ready for that. 

That's what usually keeps me busy. Thinking through these problems and then working with the team and the ecosystem to find solutions to them.

The second thing is I just started an early-stage fund which is called Orvel Ventures. So that's been something I have been busy with — fundraising and just going through the whole process of setting things up.

Ruhul: You mentioned you have a great team at E27, which I think is an excellent topic to get started. Building a good team is a common challenge most early-stage companies face. Can you talk about the key to building a good team from your experience? What are some of the things that worked for E27? 

Mohan: This has been a work in progress for a while. Building a good team is a process that takes time. If I break the process down into a few parts then the first part will be the people. Make sure that you find the right people with the right skill-set and attitude. People who have the learning mindset and the attitude to grow.

Then you need to make sure that you put them in an environment where they have the freedom and flexibility to pursue things on their own and you are like a guiding principle for them. I think that is the first part of it — finding the people with the right kind of background, mindset, and skills. 

Over the years I've been working with a core group of people at E27 to make sure that we can build a great team. Whoever we identify as future leaders, we try to groom them up to be at that level.

The second part is the culture. We're intentional about our culture, our core values, our mission, and our vision. And there are also some frameworks that we use.

I'm a big fan of the Five Dysfunctions of A Team framework. It is required reading in the company so that people understand what we're talking about when we make references to that. So from a cultural standpoint, we emphasize certain behaviors and traits.

We went to a retreat recently with the management team and we went through that entire framework all over again to ensure reinforcement. So those are the guiding practices to make sure that people are behaving and working day-to-day in a certain manner. 

The last part is giving people the tools and processes to ensure that they can function well and flourish in their roles. This may involve giving them the ability to use SaaS tools or giving them the ability to harness the remote teams which is something we have started doing a lot recently. Giving people freedom and flexibility.

So in a nutshell, if I break up the process of building a good team into three parts, then they will be the people, the culture, and the processes and systems.

Ruhul: I think that sums up a lot of the challenges people face including hiring the right people, building the right culture, and having the structure to make sure that people have the direction and flexibility to perform at their best. Beautifully put. How big is the E27 team now?

Mohan: We’re close to 30 people. It is a nice and comfortable size. Large enough that you need certain structures around communication, information sharing, and project management but not that large where it can create gaps in communication between team members.

Make sure that you find the right people who have the right skills-set and the right attitude. People who have the learning mindset and the attitude to grow. Then you need to make sure that you put them in an environment where they have the freedom and flexibility to pursue things on their own and you are like a guiding principle for them.

Ruhul: I have a couple of questions about E27 and the history and trajectory of the company. Before that, I want to learn about you. Can you tell us about your background, where did you grow up, what was your early life and education like, and your journey to what you are doing today?

Mohan: I'm ethnically Indian, Sindhi to be exact, born in Singapore. My parents are originally from Malaysia. So by heritage, we are Indian and very Southeast Asian. I grew up learning a bit of Mandarin from friends and TV. I studied Malay because it was an easier 2nd language to take in school compared to Mandarin, but I grew up learning Indonesian thanks to lots of interactions with my family members who live in Indonesia. 

I’m fortunate that I come from a fairly privileged family. My parents took care of us well and made sure that education was an important focus. For me, tech was always something that excited me from a young age and a lot of that excitement was driven by video games.

I was one of those kids who played games on Nintendo and Sega. But the PC games were the ones that I used to enjoy the most. Because back in those days, PC games were more advanced. For me dabbling in technology was always a way to figure out how things work. I started coding at 16. It was fascinating. I wanted to be a game developer at some point.

I used to build text-based games at the start and then I evolved into simple side-scrolling PC games. That was kind of my introduction to technology. For me, technology was magical.

I wouldn’t say I had been entrepreneurial growing up. But I have always been interested in wanting to solve problems from a younger age. A lot of this interest was around games, but a lot of it was also around other sectors such as healthcare, and biomedical. But the irony is that I never studied biomedical engineering. I ended up taking a different path. I went to a Polytechnic, which was a more technology-centric kind of school, as opposed to the junior college path which is a favored path for many young people during that time, as it had a more predictable pathway to university.

The pathway I chose gave me a lot of freedom, and independence to explore technology much earlier in my life. So from that point, I think it became quite a clear idea that technology is the sector I want to work in. But the idea of building a startup was never part of that picture. I was exploring it from a standpoint of joining a big company like Microsoft or Oracle or joining a government agency where the technology is used from a defense technology perspective or medical perspective. Startups were nowhere in my mind. I didn't even know that concept existed. 

So when I went to university, I got into a program called the NUS Overseas College program. It's a phenomenal program, where they give undergraduates a year off school in Singapore and send them to entrepreneurial spots around the world.

During my time those spots were Silicon Valley, Stockholm and I think they had one in Philadelphia. Now they have entrepreneurial spots in other places around the world such as Israel, India, China, etc. Under this program, an undergrad student works full-time in a startup while studying part-time at a university. I was studying part-time at Stanford University, which was an amazing environment. Interacting with the students there was quite an enriching experience. 

But the real value of the program was the startup experience. I was employee number one in a startup. I had no idea about a lot of things that were going on. So it was an extremely accelerated learning curve environment for me. When you're put into an environment where people are very open to meeting and having conversations, where there are a lot of events going on, where everyone is working on something new and interesting, it was an invaluable experience. So that one-year program made me realize that if you want to solve big problems, you need to do it in a nimble, quick, fast, and innovative manner and the best way to do it is via small, dedicated, and focused teams and that's what startups are about.

My worldview kind of completely changed from that experience and I decided that I prefer small early-stage companies and being part of the zero-to-one experience. 

So when I came back to Singapore, which was in 2007, the tech ecosystem was at a very nascent and early stage. There wasn't much happening. After spending a year, working in companies and getting a feel of the real world, the school felt underwhelming. But I was on a scholarship. So I had an obligation to continue to do well in my studies.

That's when I started getting involved in E27. A few of the alumni from the NUS Overseas College program came together to start E27 as a community in the university. This was in 2006 when I was still in the Bay Area. We used to miss the experience of the bay area. So we tried to replicate that here through events, discussions, blogging, and other stuff. When I came back to Singapore, it was already in existence and I joined the existing team.

We were running it like a community. We used to have E27 stickers on our laptops. I remember I was with one of my professors one day as I was struggling in the systems and control class in engineering school and he looked at my laptop. He asked about the sticker. I replied that this is a company in which I'm involved. So he looked at me and said "If you wanna be an entrepreneur, then don't waste your time with this. You know, there's no point in getting the As. Because it's not gonna help you. Just do the bare minimum, make sure you don't fail, and focus on the business."

That was very enlightening for me. So then I looked at all the class modules I had left to get the bare minimum score. The bare minimum score I needed to pass, not lose my scholarship, and finish my studies as quickly as possible. Then I dedicated most of my efforts to E27. 

Just before I graduated in Dec 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed. But interestingly, the financial crisis in 2008 was also the best period for startups because there were a lot of programs coming out during that time by the governments.

There were a lot of young graduates who were tapping on government grants to create startups and there were also lots of people getting laid off. The alternative to getting a job was starting a company. That was the fundamental catalyst that made me realize that I wanted to start getting myself involved in the tech ecosystem.

I graduated in Dec 2008. From 2009 to 2011, during these three years, I worked for an Edutech startup called Little Lives. I also did some projects for a mobile social network called Mig 33. They were very popular back then in emerging markets like Nepal, Bangladesh, etc. This was the pre-smartphone era and Mig33’s services were catered to feature phone users.

Around mid-2010 I also started a mobile gaming company. When I was fundraising for that company in mid-2011, I wasn’t enjoying building mobile games as much as before.

I actually wanted to go back to E27 and build that as a business. So me and my current co-founder, Thaddeus Koh, basically worked to convert E27 from a community into a company. We got some early seed stage capital, had six months of runway, and decided to see how far it would go. From then to today, this is what I have been doing. And here we are today.

Ruhul: That's a fascinating journey.

Mohan: That's a bit of life and E27 story.

Ruhul: I want to go back to your personal story. You have this multicultural background from your family and you speak multiple languages, how does that shape your view about the world and life? 

Mohan Belani: I think the beauty of being in Singapore is that this sense of multiculturalism is something that has been ingrained in us from a very young age. It is a multicultural and multiracial society.

Even at a young age in School, we would celebrate Racial Harmony Day and wear clothes from other cultures. I have friends who are Chinese, Malay, Indian, and of mixed races. This kind of experience gives you a sense of diversity in your perspective and a deeper sense of respect and tolerance for other cultures. It broadens your mindset and worldview.

My dad had an electronic shop and growing up I used to spend time hanging out there. It was fascinating to see that he had customers from all over the world which was also very eye-opening for me. There used to be Greeks, Australians, Americans, Japanese, Chinese, and people from other countries. 

My dad, who was originally born in Malaysia and is of Indian origin, speaks Hokkien, which is a dialect of southern Min Chinese. My mom understands a bit of Cantonese because in Malaysia they speak Cantonese. It's also the same in Hong Kong. My uncles speak multiple languages. My one uncle can speak Greek. It's fascinating growing up as a young person and seeing them do business and all kinds of things. It also made me realize that respecting others' perspectives is important. 

So now from a cultural standpoint at E27, when we work with our partners in other regions we are open to working with people from other cultures such as Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, etc. All that mix of cultures is something we realize is an asset that we can learn to respect and learn to double down on as opposed to something that holds us back or something that we don't understand. So my life in Singapore has helped.  

Also, that one year in Silicon Valley was another massively eye-opening experience. I met people from all over the world. I lived in a house of Indian people. They were my college mates and roommates. Just learning about how they work and function from a cultural standpoint was an eye-opening experience for me. I hope that answers your question.

Ruhul: How many languages do you speak?

Mohan: English is my primary language. Besides, I speak Malay and a bit of Indonesian. Mandarin is not a conversational language for me. But I understand it a little. Hindi is something that I of course picked up through childhood and through watching Bollywood movies and other stuff. But I’m not conversant in it. I know some simple words here and there, but definitely not enough to have a simple conversation.

Ruhul: Coming back to E27, you mentioned that you went back to E27 in 2011 and you and your co-founder decided that this is the business you wanted to pursue. 

Mohna: It was in late 2011. So in 2009 I got out of school and worked with the tech company I mentioned, which was a mobile social network and I had the gaming company.

Ruhul: And you decided that gaming is not my thing and you went back to E27. What was so different about E27? What did you like about the idea of E27?

Mohan: I think I'm someone who likes to support the underdog. I like to be the champion and support someone who has an idea and a vision for changing the world and help them in that process. The other thing is that you see Southeast Asia is a region that has a lot of opportunities, but also a lot of challenges. So I had a vision where I wanted to contribute to changing that.

From a technology standpoint, in 2007-2008, the world was at an early stage and Southeast Asia was at an even earlier stage. So my worldview back then was that if you wanted Southeast Asia's problems to be solved, you can't rely on the government alone to do so. You also can't rely on the large companies because then you will always be beholden to the multinational corporations and their agendas.

So the only way to do this is through internal entrepreneurship, small and medium companies, and startups. As a platform or an enabler, what I can do is to support the group of these companies and that's where our long-term vision came from.

Our mission is to empower entrepreneurs with the tools to build and grow their companies. And we primarily support them in the areas of information, talent, funding, and customers. We help companies to scale up and get their visions achieved through using our platform. In 2011, it felt like the ecosystem was more ready for a platform like that.

Ruhul: In 2012, you and your co-founder got together and you raised a small seed fund, what happened after that? 

Mohan: In 2012, I met our first angel investor. His name is Nic Lim. Nic was initially discussing investing in my gaming company. I had a chat with him and I told him that I'm going to stop the gaming company thing and I don't want to raise money for it anymore. He was from a banking background but had also started companies before, and he was transitioning back into tech and startups. So I shared our vision and plan with him and I figured we could use a more senior person supporting us. 

He put in a small amount of money in E27. But we also made it a requirement that he spend quality time with us, like the big brother to take care of us and help us to grow.

I think in hindsight that was tremendously valuable for us. Because through that we learned a lot. We were able to tap into his relationships and expertise networks. He was also pivotal in helping us raise the next round of funding, which was led by some Japanese investors and Southeast Asian investors. Me and my co-founder, as we had reset the whole company, we were incentivized to work on this full-time for the long-term and, and see it through.

Ruhul: How big was the team at the time? 

Mohan: At that time, I think it was about four people. 

Ruhul: Small team.

Mohan: Really really small team.

Ruhul: You were primarily doing reporting about the Singaporean tech scene and startups.

Mohan: Actually in the early days when we started, we didn't intend to become writers or journalists. None of us come from a journalism background.

My co-founder and I are tech folks. I think we were much better at doing events and community activities. But the content piece was a good way to keep the community engaged. That's how the content portion started. We were doing some level of reporting on what's happening in the region, but we were also using that as a way to get the communities together.

It was common for people to message us and ask us whether they could use our content portion as a way to promote either their activities, their hiring programs, events, or all of that. 

If you look at E27 today, we've got multiple products: news, startups, investors, events, and jobs. All of this was because of the feedback and the inputs we were getting from the ecosystem and that's how we built everything over time.

Part of Team E27 with the winners of Echelon Asia Summit 2019
Part of Team E27 with the winners of Echelon Asia Summit 2019 | Photo by E27

Ruhul: Can you give us sort of an overview of the trajectory of the company in terms of how the product evolved? So far I gather, you started with a focus on the events and community and then content came along because users wanted content and it also allowed you to keep the community engaged and it was complimentary. Now you do a lot of different things as you mentioned. How did all these things come along? 

Mohan: In the early days, it was very event-driven. Our revenue model was events. Our main way of making money in the early days was either us doing our events and then having sponsors pay for it, be it the government or corporations, or us running events for other clients. For example, we would work with Microsoft, and PayPal to run hackathons. Just like that. In the early days, hackathons were a big thing. Not so much like conferences. Because there weren't many startups yet.

Then on the content side, it was all free like Pro Bono free content services that we were not monetizing. But quickly it became a common request that we would get daily where a founder would come to me and say, "Hey, Mohan, I'm trying to hire a developer. Can you write an article on your site for that or mention it on your site?" So we would write an article or publish the job circulars like Company X is trying to hire a front-end engineer, with the job details. So there were all of these incoming requests from companies regarding what they wanted us to promote and publish on the website, as well as what they wanted to see.

The first thing we built was the startup database. Because naturally, once you profile enough companies, you want to make sure you are maintaining a database with them and the company has the option to update their information including fundraising information and others. So that's what we started with and then subsequently we launched the jobs database. It was a free way to promote and push out jobs.

Then we launched the investment database and the events database. While we were doing all these things, we were still only monetizing from events because of our mindset and culture.

We were not very strong product mindset thinkers. We were very community and events and cultural mindset people. I'm trying to glean an insight here. We missed out on a lot of good opportunities to maybe monetize earlier or be much more impactful. Events were the only thing we were really good at and we were making a good amount of money. As we evolved, there were some ups and downs along the way. Our primary revenue model continued to scale on the event side.

But to be fair I think around 2017, we were also realizing how competitive the events landscape was getting in Singapore. As the ecosystem evolves, it is natural for the government to play a larger role in the ecosystem. In Southeast Asia especially, governments are very hands-on in wanting to support startups. It's always a national agenda and it's a good thing. So what ended up happening was that there was naturally some friendly competition among different agencies. The Singapore government is very good at bringing high-quality companies from around the world here, but that also includes high-quality events.

Naturally, as our business and the ecosystem grew, there was good healthy competition from other players, which made the events model for us very challenging. From 2015 onward, we started to think hard about diversification. We started doing a lot of consulting projects. We worked with a lot of different organizations. We started doing a bit of media and monetizing it a bit. 

All of this was going well until 2019. We had our highest revenue ever in 2019. The success made us ambitious. We started to make bigger plans such as starting things on the investment side and all of that. But then COVID came in and it was a slap in the face. In the early days, the barrier in our thinking and mindset was dragging us down. COVID helped us to realize that. So in hindsight, it was actually one of the best things that happened to us.

I hope this gives you an understanding of the early days, culturally how we were, how we were making money, and the barrier in our thinking and mindset that was dragging us down.

Ruhul: You mentioned you went through a lot of ups and downs during this period. What are some of the challenges that you faced? Also, was there any inflection point for instance, as you mentioned although COVID was a hard time for you, it was a good thing as well in many ways.

Mohan: There were multiple major turning points in our history. I'll run through them on a high level.

I think the first major turning point happened in 2013. In the early days, as I said, our core team was very event-centric. And as the company was trying to evolve to become product and media-centric, there was a challenge in transitioning the team's mindsets, capabilities, and skills set. So that part was a big challenge for us in the early days. We had a large turnover from the original core team and that of course had an impact on us for a while.

The second major issue we had was around 2015-2016. I think we became a bit too ambitious and aggressive with wanting to transition the company into a product-centric model which required a bit more capital and fundraising. Hence I shifted my focus from the day-to-day operations of the company to fundraising, which was a mistake. In hindsight, it is important to have that balance where your core business is still there and the company is still cash-flow positive while you are trying to transition to a new model. We made a mistake there and could not pull it off. Consequently, we had to do a bit of a large round of layoffs and restructuring the products and the teams, which really pulled us back quite a bit for a few years.

So 2016 was a challenging year for E27. It also reshaped my and my co-founder's roles and focus in the company. We kind of had to take a few steps back from a lot of the good things that we had built because of those challenges. The period from 2016 to 2018 was a time when there was a reshuffling of priorities and rearrangement of the company's core focus. Things got back to positive around 2018 and 2019 and then in 2020 COVID came in and put another stop there.

In 2017/2018 when we were recovering from our second challenging period, I was a bit older. The ecosystem was more established. I had also started to get a lot more clarity on how we wanted to build the business, what we wanted to do and how the business was going to move forward. So 2017-2019 were the years of growth for us.

In hindsight, I feel that I lacked clarity in terms of where I wanted to take the company, what we wanted to build, how we wanted to operate, and how we wanted the company to look. If I could have done things differently, I would operate with a clearer plan about what the company would look like and how it was going to work. I probably should have worked on this a bit more in the early days. We would have been able to get faster to where we are now had I operated with a bit more clarity.  

Ruhul: You mean you should have the trajectory figured out ahead of time? 

Mohan: Yeah, which is exactly my role now. I'm always looking at where we need to be in six to 12 months, how to get there, and making sure there's a clear and concise plan to get there. 

Ruhul: That is such an extremely important point. Do you have any other reflections or insights from that period? 

Mohan: There are so many. I think the first major insight I got was in 2013, from a maturity standpoint and an emotional resilience standpoint, back then I definitely was not at the level to handle it. So clearly it took me longer to bounce back and get back to the right mindset.

But in 2016, I think, I got stronger and received better support from my investor base. I was older and a bit more emotionally resilient. The bounce back was faster and more productive. There was a lot less negative energy in that process. There was also a clearer idea of what needed to be done to move forward. 

I remember the day we had to do the layoffs and then the announcement came on the media outlets. One of my investors basically said to me "Look, you do take the time to feel down, but remember that you need to set a deadline to the negative emotions and the energy. There's no point wallowing in self pity forever." He told me that the exact same thing happened to him years ago when he was running his startup and he had to lay off the team and the company had to shut down everything.

He said, "It happens a lot more than we actually think." The eye-opener was that 99% of the problems a startup founder faces, other startup founders face the exact same thing.

That was also the year I started to join founder coaching programs and start to develop my thinking through peer learning with other founders. 

As you scale and grow, you realize that there are many playbooks out there that other founders used to build their businesses. For a founder, for example, if a key employee leaves your company, you might feel like something is wrong with you or the company. But then you realize it actually happens everywhere and you realize there are ways to deal with it and you build resiliency over time. That was the other major change during that period. So the upswing was faster. By 2017, I remember we were okay and in 2018 and 2019, we were doing well.

And then COVID in 2020 was a completely different flip. I knew a bit earlier on of the lockdown and all of these challenges that were coming. 

The negativity was everywhere. The business saw an immediate drop. But it didn’t affect me. In fact, it was a massive boost and excitement for me. Instead of reacting to the revenue that we lost and crying in one corner about shutting down, I galvanized that negativity into energy with the team and our co-founder. I told my team, "Hey, this is now like the opportune time for us to do all the crazy online things that we've been talking about for the longest time and pivot away completely from events."

I was pumped. To me, it was one of the best things that happened to us. I don't know if you know about the " Peacetime and the Wartime CEO" concept. Ben Horowitz wrote about it in his book. I was really enjoying that whole experience. Of course, it was difficult. There were a lot of ups and downs, but it was very different from the earlier days. I hope that gives a good overview. 

“We did not necessarily have a good brain for making money. We’re ecosystem builders. We’re helping people. But we didn’t know how to generate revenue or were not thinking much about it. I mean, today we are much better at that. [...] In the early days, when we had monetization conversations in the company we used to feel like we were betraying the ecosystem by trying to monetize. We could have been smarter. Maybe it would've been better if we had put a more monetization mindset around it. Then we could’ve done more good.” 

Ruhul: I want to ask a few more questions about your early days. You started with a team of four people. You started with building an event business. Although you went through difficulties later on with event business because of the competitive pressure and the other challenges, I think you initially built a really good business out there with events. How did that happen? Can you give us an example of how you approached the potential clients and any other experience of going to a company and pitching them? I think you did an Echelon event in Bangladesh as part of your regional summit a few years back. 

Mohan: A lot of our inspiration was of course from Silicon Valley and how events were run over there. But we had to localize that concept to Southeast Asia and make it relevant to the market here. In the early days, we used to take a lot of feedback from our community, our partners, and our customers. That’s how we progressed the events and activities. 

I remember the satellite event in Bangladesh. All of this didn't happen through a brainstorming session where we said, "Hey, we should go to all of these markets and do things." No. It happened because Singapore is an expensive place to come to for events.

If you're an early-stage startup, maybe you haven't raised funding, or maybe you just raised a small amount of money, for you and your co-founder to spend maybe one week flying to Singapore, whether you're flying from Thailand or Indonesia or Bangladesh, you got to pay for two persons flights and accommodations for one week. On top of that, you have to pay for your daily expenses and other costs. The total costs go to a couple of thousands for a startup which is not a small amount. 

We thought, why don't we bring the experiences to all of these markets instead? We decided to bring a mini version or mini slice of the experience to all these markets and give them the echelon feel and we thought then we could hopefully work with local partners in such a way we could sponsor some of these trips. 

I remember in the early days, we used to work with the Malaysian government and the Thai government, just to name a few. They would come up with programs and packages that would support their startups to fly to attend the event. In most cases, we would make very little money from all of these activities because a booth at the event would be $300, but the cost for them to fly might be $2000 to $3,000 and all of that cost used to be covered by the government. But from those events, we would just make $300. We would do a lot of things and go above and beyond just to make sure that the startup benefits from these programs. Those are some of the things we did.

The problem was that we did not necessarily have a good brain for making money. We’re ecosystem builders. We’re helping people. But we didn’t know how to generate revenue or were not thinking much about it. I mean, today we are much better at that. I was joking with our Head of Revenue yesterday about it. In the early days, when we had monetization conversations in the company we used to feel like we were betraying the ecosystem by trying to monetize. I don't know whether in hindsight that was a good thing or a bad thing. We could have been smarter. Maybe it would've been better if we had put a more monetization mindset around it. Then we could’ve done more good. 

The other problem was that the events industry and the events ecosystem were evolving. And suddenly we had competitors who had raised a lot of money running events and different organizations throwing events. What would end up happening was that you would have situations where ticket dumping would happen or very cheap boosts would happen. Then the ecosystem was also evolving and people were saying hey Mohan why should I pay $300 to come to Echelon where I could go to that event for free. This kind of competitive issue was starting to pop up.

I remember, I think this was in 2015, we were still able to sell tickets and we would make maybe a few hundred thousand dollars selling tickets. Then one year later, because the ecosystem had evolved so fast, we would make less than $10,000 from selling tickets because the whole idea of paying for tickets had stopped.

So the business model for events became more and more challenging. And then we had to find out other ways to make it work such as doing pavilions, and doing more corporate activities, which kind of pulled us away from startups quite a bit.

Part of E27 team meeting virtually | Photo by E27
Part of E27 team meeting virtually | Photo by E27

Ruhul: I think this is a really important realization that you probably should have thought about how to make money much earlier. Is there any other realization from those days in terms of mistakes that you probably think you should have avoided or things that you could have done better? 

Mohan: I think that there are a lot of things around people that are important. People are one thing. There are a lot of things also around business models. Let me pick these two things and explain them.

If I talk about people first, I'm not sure whether you've heard of this phrase: Higher Slow, Fire Fast. Sometimes when you want or need a resource, you can make really bad decisions if you push it too quickly and don’t deliberate enough. I think looking back we made many bad decisions when it comes to people. There were also many times when we knew that a certain person is not a good fit for the company, whether it was culturally or skills wise, but we would just keep giving that person one more chance, try for another month, and so on. We realized the lesson the hard way. If a person is not a good fit, fire fast. By keeping that person, you're doing a disservice to both the organization and the individual.

When hiring people two things matter: culture fit and skills fit. The other important thing is alignment. Imagine a big boat and everybody is rowing at the same time. It's really important that everyone is rowing hard and rowing in the same direction. You and I could be rowing really hard, but if we are rowing in the opposite direction the boat is going to not move anywhere.

In the early days, as a founder, it is important to get everybody in the company aligned and clear about the company's goal. So you don't have people misaligned with the ambition of the company. If you have people who are misaligned, the outcome will also be misaligned for everyone, even if everyone is putting effort and working hard.

The Five Dysfunctions of A Team, which I spoke about earlier, covers this topic really well. It suggests alignment in people to make sure that everyone is clear on what the end goal is, which is very critical. So we use OKRs now to make sure that alignment is very clear. But in the early days, we didn't do that. So the entire quarter could have passed and we would look back and not really know what we actually did.

Other things are business and business models. I think we got too stuck in the event business model for far too long. Although it is not a bad model, it's just that at some point we should have built more new revenue models, experimented with new models and we should have gotten rid of the models that were clearly not working. 

The other problem with events is that year on year the expectation gets larger and larger. Moreover, when you compete with other events, it becomes an egotistical competition about the size and how many attendees you can attract. You focus too much on who has the bigger and better event, while you're actually losing the fundamentals of your business in that kind of thinking. 

The business model part was very critical for us. We should have tested more business models. We should have tried more new ways to generate revenue and we should have been a lot more creative in that process.

Now we are very different. Always experimenting. Always trying new ideas. Learning from our past experience. We're always trying new things. There's literally a new business model that I'm working on. As we launch that new model, we're hoping next year will be a pretty significant one for us.  

Ruhul: Very important points beautifully put. You touched upon the company's trajectory. Now coming to today, can you give us an overview of the company today in terms of products and services you offer, team size, business operations, and any other metrics that you look at? 

Mohan: We are almost 30 people. We stopped doing events completely. We do have a small event coming up in October just to try things out. But we pivoted from the event during COVID and started doing a lot more business matching programs.

We work with all sorts of companies around the startup programs that they have and match them with startups through our platform. Media is another part of our revenue model, which is a significant part of our business model. We've grown that quite a bit over the last few years.

Then the last one is our pro-business — our subscription business. It is something we just launched during COVID. We have been working on slowly building that up. 

2021 ended up being our best year ever because a lot of the pivots that we did worked really well. 2020 was the year when we were doing the pivot and building the new services and all that. 2021 was when we saw the outcome of our work. Now moving forward, we are looking at a new area that centers around data and research for companies. 

“When hiring people two things matter: culture fit and skills fit. The other important thing is alignment. Imagine a big boat and everybody is rowing at the same time. It's really important that everyone is rowing hard and rowing in the same direction. You and I could be rowing really hard, but if we are rowing in the opposite direction the boat is going to not move anywhere. In the early days, as a founder, it is important to get everybody in the company aligned and clear about the company's goal.”

Ruhul: You have built this fascinating suite of products. Product-wise, can you briefly talk about the corporate matchmaking thing that you mentioned? 

Mohan: So I'll start with the first one: corporate matchmaking. When COVID happened, I sat down with the team. I asked them if we look at Echelon, what do they think was the most successful part of echelon that people were willing to pay for and actually saw value in? Was it the content, was it the exhibition, was it the people, what was it? We realized that the part that worked, something that people found valuable was the business matching activities. For business matching activities, it was mainly startup and investor matching and startup and corporate matching.

We realized that startup and investor matching could be done on a platform. It doesn't require dedicated programs. Investors are always looking for startups and startups always pitch to investors. So that's how we launched the first part of our pro service. We put a connect button on the web. There are all those profiles of investors and startups that you can go and research. It is free to search. But if you want to connect with them on the platform and share your data room, that's the part that you pay for. So we actually built that matchmaking service layer on top of the profiles that we had. Then of course we improved the profiles. We created new ones. We verified the data. So we went through a lot of work on that side. But in a nutshell that's how we talked about business matching between startups and investors.

Then came the second part, which is corporates. Corporates are different. Companies usually do business matching by themselves. When we wanted to bring that to our platform, there were a lot of deeper requirements. It requires a lot of hand-holding and so on. That's why we built a whole slew of services. We built widgets on the site, and an announcement bar and we started to change our emails, marketing campaigns, etc. We started doing webinars. We started doing matchmaking activities. We started purchasing tools that allow us to do matchmaking better.  

Now corporations come to us and say that they have a program, a fund, or a product, and how they can reach out to the community. So what we do is, we basically work on programs using our content, webinars, and our data to match them to the communities. So that's the two areas.

Ruhul: How big is your matchmaking business? If you take into account your media business and the other verticals of the business, what percentage of revenue is coming from matchmaking?

Mohan: Media is probably 40%, the program is another 40% and then the subscription is about 30%.

Ruhul: Can you talk a little bit about the media part of the business? How does that work and what is the business model? Also, could you talk about the business model of other products as well? How do they work in connection with each other?

Mohan: Our business model for the media part is quite straightforward. It's driven by publicity and it's all about content creation and visibility on the website.

We also have a community media model. For example, startups from Bangladesh and around the world can create their own content on our website. But it takes a lot of effort to create your own content. That's where the monetization opportunity comes in. Because there are a lot of corporations and companies that would rather work with us to do the content creation and the promotion on our website than do it themselves. So this is the sector where we work with the companies. So we use our platform to promote and distribute content. The content goes out to our network and that's what they're paying us for. 

So in terms of how all of this ties back together, when we talk to a particular client, there's never just one product that we focus on or talk about. The discussion is always holistic. Some companies do a mix of offline, while some companies do a mix of online, and yet some companies do media or business or matchmaking, webinars. Some companies even do private closed-door sessions. So every conversation that we have with clients is quite multifaceted and there's always a mix of things that happen.

Ruhul: Can you talk about how many users you have or any other metrics that you're looking into in terms of the size of the business?

Mohan: We have about 35,000 startups on our database. We have about 1200 investors. We've done about 15,000 matches/connect on our platform. 

Ruhul: How does the pricing for the matchmaking work? 

Mohan: So far, we've kept the pricing simple. We just charge a monthly fee regardless of the number of matching connections. We just wanted to keep it easy at the start. We are working on ways to tweak and evolve that. We don't do premium content right now. But that's something we are working on and hope to introduce very soon.

Part E27 team | Photo by E27
Part E27 team | Photo by E27

Ruhul: E27 has become one of the most prominent tech and startup-focused publishers in the region over the years. What are some things that have helped in the growth of the company?

Mohan: It's a cycle. When we used to do events, we would connect with the community and have physical interactions with them. That community gets transported back online with the content that we do. The more content we publish, the more founders and investors reach out to us. And as the visibility grows, the companies that want to tap into our network collaborate with us.

It always starts small, evolves, and grows over time as long as the content that we are pushing, the work that we're doing, and the activities that we're running are valuable to the ecosystem. 

Ruhul: Do you have any examples of any particular strategies or particular tactics that really worked well for the company in terms of growth?

Mohan: I think one thing we did well was the regionalizing part. In the early days, when we used to do the event in Singapore, it was a Singapore-only audience. When we started to do smaller events in all these smaller markets, then naturally the visibility in all these markets started to grow. 

Before we went to Bangladesh to do the small echelon event in Bangladesh, we might not have any coverage of Bangladeshi companies on our website or we might not have any profiles of Bangladeshi companies. But after that event, suddenly our visibility grew and people started to talk about us and Bangladeshi startups started reaching out to us. Then they start populating themselves on our database.

I think that organic growth in terms of locations, markets, etc, worked quite well behind our growth. Now if you go to our database and use the filter to find Bangladeshi companies, you will find 376 Bangladeshi companies on our website.

Ruhul: That's a very good number. What are the challenges for E27 now? 

Mohan: There are several challenges. This is a hyper-competitive sector. Many many different players exist in the space. The ecosystem has grown and definitely gotten a lot more specific. Specialization has grown. There are organizations that do very specialized things. Contrary to that, we used to cover everything such as fin-tech, cyber security, B2B, etc. But the model is changing. Today, there is a platform that is just dedicated to fin-tech and crypto and they will go into that space really deep.

So our challenge is that we don't have the capability to do that. We used to do many different things, how do we focus or how do we not do certain things and go deeper into it, is something we have to figure out — how do we remain competitive by being better than other specialized companies. 

The second thing is the business model. Our event business model had its own challenges and then it stopped for a while because of COVID. Now it's slowly coming back, but it's also complicated. So from a business model standpoint, I don't think we should go back to the old way of doing things. We need to figure out newer and more relevant revenue models. 

The last part is remaining relevant to the ecosystem in a changing environment. In the early days, when the ecosystem was young, it had a lot of problems. Today, the ecosystem is established. There are many investors and startups. The government and many different organizations are supporting the ecosystem. Amidst all the changes whether we can do the work that remains relevant is something you need to think about. So those are the few things that are keeping me up at night.

Ruhul: What are the plans for the company going forward? 

Mohan: Last year was a very good year for us. This year we want to build on that momentum. There are definitely milestones that we are looking to achieve. We are also definitely looking to launch at least one new business vertical, which will allow us to scale our revenue and look at new opportunities.

In the early days, a lot of our challenge was that we helped companies at the early stage, then they raised funding and grew big, and then there was not much help that we could provide them anymore. So now we are thinking of ways of how we can go upstream such that once companies are doing better, and raise money, we can offer them value and services.

“I think if you really want to remain relevant and thrive, you have to build something that is unique to your user base. It cannot be a simple generic thing that you're building. This is something I think is critical.”

Ruhul: You rightly pointed out that the media has become a really challenging territory in many different ways. The competition has grown. The old advertising model no longer works under the competitive pressures of Google and Facebook. We are also seeing a lot of new developments in the space. There are companies like The Generalist, Not Boring — kind of one-man media companies. For instance, Packy of Not Boring has a media company and a fund attached to it. These are interesting models. The newsletter is there. The question is, from your experience of building E27, what's your take on building a successful media company in today's environment, what worked for you? 

Mohan: Yes. The media business is challenging and all that. But there are interesting media businesses that have been built in recent years. The way we figured out monetization was just to do things that are different from the other players while focusing on the core problems that we’re solving. 

So in our particular case, it's not like there were no startup events in the early days. There were conferences and events. It's just that we did that in a way that was really unique to the industry. I mean, if we would copy that same event and put it in a different industry, it definitely wouldn't work. So we were doing events very specific to the industry and were also building the features that were relevant to the industry. 

I remember that we would have other event companies come to our event, and they would say, "we have no idea what you guys have built, but it's clearly working". They would learn from us. 

I think if you really want to remain relevant and thrive, you have to build something that is unique to your user base. It cannot be a simple generic thing that you're building. This is something I think is critical.

So even for echelon, the event that we did in 2012, our planning was very simple. We did the first one in a government building. In the early days, when we were doing things in order to be successful, we would make things simple, cheap, and easy and do things in a very grungy manner. But as we scaled up, we started working a lot with partners. We started to be creative regarding our monetization and marketing strategy. So that's the first part behind E27's growth.

With respect to the media business and the future of the media business, media is a hard space to be successful. If you look around companies like BuzzFeed and Vice, a lot of the supposed media darlings of the world are crumbling. But I think there's definitely still a market for deep research-driven content. So, I mean the Wall Street Journal is doing really well with subscriptions and I think it will continue. There are also many smaller media outlets built by the Packy McCormicks of the world. I think this will continue to happen.

There are also content formats that are evolving and changing that media businesses should really think about. In our case, we do a lot of articles but contents such as podcasts and videos are really interesting. I think there have been interesting companies in India, for example, News Inshorts, etc that are exploring these things. They have reformatted media content and made them relevant in a different manner and they are doing really well.

The last thing which is interesting is to launch products and services. I think many media businesses have started doing more specific products. Launching courses and services that could help compliment your revenue, so that it's not just purely from advertising or subscriptions. If you are out there running a media business and you have a good eyeball and viewership, you should really consider doing courses or digital books that are deeper. There are multiple areas that are quite prevalent, like personal finance, business building, the hustle culture, etc. 

If you look at younger people, building businesses on TikTok and Instagram. So you can build sizable businesses on your own on a lot of these platforms just through the creative use of tech and content and building deeper content buckets. So I would say these are some of the things to look at. 

At some point, I think NFT would be really powerful for media businesses. They can give people a sense of exclusivity and access to content that is a bit more unique. So NFTs could play a pretty big role in helping media businesses to run.

Ruhul: What do you think about the subscription model, which is pretty mainstream now in the west and not that much in our region? There are some fascinating companies coming out of India as well as Singapore using subscriptions such as Ken, MorningContext, etc.

Mohan: In Singapore, it's definitely a bit more prevalent.

I think the subscription model is the future. But people should tweak the model and experiment. Just a one-size fits all model is not going to work. There's a startup, for example, in Singapore, that plugs into publisher sites and allows users to pay per piece of content.

I think there needs to be some level of gamification elements and unique ways. It is not just purely a flat fee model. I think there are creative things that can be done.

For example, as a consumer, if you participate in content production or if you participate in the sharing and distribution of content, maybe it will allow you to earn some credits that will allow you to read more content. I think little tweaks and, and ideas like this should be tested out in this part of the world. But I am bullish on subscriptions and I think it's definitely the future.

Ruhul: You have launched your own fund and you have seen enough founders and investors from across markets through your work at E27. What do you think separates really successful and exceptional founders from the rest of us? And also on the same thread, what separates exceptional companies from the other companies/startups that don’t succeed?

Mohan:  I've been angel investing since 2013. I've done close to 30 investments to date. It's been a fascinating experience. My entire thesis has evolved over time and what I realized is that most of the solid founders I've met have a deep affinity for the problem they are working on. It has definitely affected them or their close ones in a way. They see it as their life’s calling to solve this problem.

Recently I have spoken to one of my favorite founders. I jokingly asked him, "If tomorrow someone offers you 200 million to sell the company, would you sell it?" Then he responded, "And then what do I do? What do I do with all the money? What do I do with my life?" He runs a company called NirogStreet in India. He said, "Look, NirogStreet is my life. I'm going to do this for many many years. I want to continue to push this vision that I have and I'll do this till the day I die."

So there is that mindset where for the founders the companies they're building, the organizations they're building, are not just solely to make money or to solve a problem, but it is also to reshape the world in their views, in their lens. 

Let's use Mark Zuckerberg as an example. I know he's a polarizing character. But he fundamentally changed the way people connect with each other and build relationships with each other, catch up, and follow up with each other. That was his worldview. It's not important now whether it was right or wrong, but that was his worldview. It was not about being a billionaire or super rich or powerful. I think that's what is different about great founders and the companies they build. 

Ruhul: That's powerful. In terms of great companies or startups, what separates them from others?

Mohan: Great companies or startups have a clear and big problem that they work on and they're really good at making sure that there is the capital and human resources around it to support the core of that problem.

“So there is that mindset where for the founders the companies they're building, the organizations they're building, are not just solely to make money or to solve a problem, but it is also to reshape the world in their views, in their lens. Let's use Mark Zuckerberg as an example. I know he's a polarizing character. But he fundamentally changed the way people connect with each other and build relationships with each other, catch up, and follow up with each other. That was his worldview. It's not important now whether it was right or wrong, but that was his worldview. It was not about being a billionaire or super rich or powerful. I think that's what is different about great founders and the companies they build.”

Mohan: What do you look for in founders and teams when you invest in them?

Mohan: I typically invest in founders, as I mentioned earlier, who have a deep affinity to the problem that they're working on. The second one is when I converse with them, I try to see whether they have the understanding and clarity of the problem. 

Going back to the first principle, I try to see how clearly they understand the problem and what their vision is and how the company solves the problem over time. That clarity of vision about the company and the problem is another interesting aspect.

I think for me these two have been the guiding principles when I am investing in a company or looking for founders. 

“The first thing I would suggest to everyone is: try different things. I started my life as a tech guy and then when I was in the bay area, I tried digital marketing. Then when I came back to Singapore, I worked in business development. I think trying out different things is really important to figure out what you are really good at, what you like and don't like, and your preferences.”

Ruhul: Your advice for founders, particularly people who are building media businesses.

Mohan: I think regardless of the media business, my suggestion is always: be creative with your business models, build hypotheses, test many different ideas and see what works. I think that's very important in media businesses, especially. You will be surprised by the outcomes of those kinds of experiments. 

The second thing is, engagement is way more important than vanity numbers. So make sure you're building an engaging experience for the user base, and keeping up with how the users interact with your product.

Ruhul: Your general career advice for the young people who are getting started in life. 

Mohan: The first thing I would suggest to everyone is: try different things. I started my life as a tech guy and then when I was in the bay area, I tried digital marketing. Then when I came back to Singapore, I worked in business development. I think trying out different things is really important to figure out what you are really good at, what you like and don't like, and your preferences.

I think it's important for young people when they join a company or start a company, to wear many different hats. Don't try to pigeonhole yourself to one area. Open your mind up and open yourself up to many many different types of opportunities. So if you're in a startup tomorrow and for some reason, they are organizing a launch event, go volunteer to do that. Go learn how to put an event together or work with people, even if your role is in marketing or tech. That's my first advice.

Secondly, I think self-reflection is important. Break your life up into quarters. Have a one-year plan about where you want to see yourself every year. Break that plan into quarters. Once you commit yourself to do something in a quarter, stick to it, see it through and at the end of the quarter, reflect back, see what worked and what didn’t, and then tweak it again from the second quarter. 

For example, if you decide tomorrow that you will learn yoga or front-end coding or how to build an app, dedicate a proper quarter to it, and at the end of the quarter reflect on yourself. How was the experience? Did you enjoy it? Could you get better or not? You sometimes need to give yourself a good amount of time to try things out before you realize what is good or not good enough for you.

So my principle is to break my life into quarters. At the start of the quarter, I plan out what I want to do and at the end of the quarter, I look back and reflect on whether I actually enjoyed doing it or not. Do I want to continue doing it? Then I restructure my life based on reflection.

I wish I started doing this earlier in my life.

Ruhul: Five books that you'd like to recommend to our readers.

Mohan: The Five Dysfunctions of A Team

11 Rings was a really good book. I'm not a basketball fan, but I really enjoyed the book nevertheless.

Principles for Dealing With The Changing World Order by Ray Dalio. I think it is a very powerful book and very relevant to the world we are living in today. 

Zero to One by Peter Thiel is also a really good book.

Then lastly I would recommend "Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Ruhul: Do you have any book in mind that is not necessarily related to business but you think books that changed your life?

Mohan: Inner Engineering by Sadhguru. It is very eye-opening and makes you rethink the way you behave and react to situations around you. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear is also a very good book. It has clear techniques like habit stacking etc. on how to build good habits and kill bad ones.

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is also an interesting book. It’s a collecting of stories about the idea of money and will help rethink your relationship with money

How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan is also a really good book about psychedelics and the future of these substances

AI Superpowers by Kai-Fu Lee is also a very eye-opening book on China, and how Chinese entrepreneurs think and offers some glimpses of how China works. 

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, though it's an old book, helps you to rethink how you live your life and how to manage your work efforts. 

The subtle art of not giving a f*ck' is also one of my all-time favorites. It's a no-bullshit, in-your-face perspective on how to live your life

Ruhul: The biggest lessons you have learned from your journey so far. 

Mohan: I am a very purpose-driven person. I am not driven by money. For me, the purpose is what matters the most. So being very clear about what the purpose is and why you're doing something is really important. So I think for me in terms of everything I do, the purpose is the main factor and having clarity of the purpose is something that I take very seriously.

I think another lesson would be that I've learned to be a bit more stoic on things. So I don't get too excited when things are going well and don’t despair when things are not going well. I think managing emotions is really important.

I've also learned that exercise and having a well-balanced life is very critical. You have to dedicate time to things like exercise, taking care of yourself, etc as much as you do to work or make money.

I think those would be the three key things that I have learned so far.

“I think self-reflection is important. Break your life up into quarters. Have a one-year plan about where you want to see yourself every year. Break that plan into quarters. Once you commit yourself to do something in a quarter, stick to it, see it through and at the end of the quarter, reflect back, see what worked and what didn’t, and then tweak it again from the second quarter.”

Ruhul: What do you think about life given that it is short and we'll not be here for long? 

Mohan Belani: Through my experiences, I have realized that life inherently has no real purpose or meaning. I came to that realization through reading Inner Engineering and some of my personal experiences with psychedelics and other personal experiences. There's really no purpose for us for being around and doing the things we do. Society, our day-to-day activities, money, and religion have been created to give us a sense of purpose. So for everyone, finding that purpose is very important.

But also realizing that you cannot obsess over one purpose is important. Money is the best example of that. The moment you just obsess your life around making as much money as possible and having a rich life you go down a pretty scary path. You have to find different buckets of purpose and balance that out. This is because people and your surroundings will change over time

We all are going to die at some point. There's really no purpose. Noone's going to remember you. So don't push too hard over this fake reality. It could be money, fame, power, or whatever is your obsession. That's the first part.

I'm also mindful of the fact that I shouldn't regress to a level where I have no purpose at all and thus fail to be productive. That’s another dangerous slippery slope. Because if there is no purpose, then why am I doing anything? Then I'll be living a very purposeless life. I think it's important to be true to yourself and ask yourself what you really want and then focus on that, but not to the level that it starts to affect things around you and you give up everything to focus on that. There is a healthy balance. But the critical part is finding the purpose. We have to make meaning in what we do.  

Ruhul: How do you navigate through the fact that life is temporary and short? How do you navigate the feeling of what you are doing probably doesn't matter? How do you remain optimistic?

Mohan: The first part is the sense of ego. I think if you want to grow as an individual you really have to take yourself out of everything and the ego has to go. 

Maybe in the younger days, you would focus on your personal visibility or your personal success, but now you realize that there are things bigger and beyond you, for example, your company, your purpose, your mission, and your family, which are far more important than your own personal success. The goal is how do you harness that and put it into good use for whatever you're trying to do. 

If you give me $20,000 and say to do whatever I want with it, I genuinely wouldn't know what to buy. I have nothing to buy that I want and I don't have any problem or issue that I can solve with that money. 

In most cases what I would actually do is, I'll probably split that up into four checks for $5,000 each and find a cause or a purpose that I really like or believe in and give it to support that cause or purpose. 

So for me, it's really all about looking at the world today, seeing which are the problems that you are passionate about and how you can, whether it is directly or indirectly, work towards them. 

That's how I see things.

Ruhul: How do you stay productive? Do you have any unique productivity habits?

Mohan: Every Sunday I do a reflection of the week. I have a simple scoring system for that. I talk about feelings and achievements. I could have a well-achieving week. But I could have felt shit that whole week and vice versa. So I think it's important to know that. The opposite could be true as well. I could have an amazing week feeling-wise with very little achievement. I think differentiating those two is important. 

I do a reflection session every Sunday night and then I map out what I need to do for the week ahead. So I basically go into the week having clarity on what I need to do. 

It's not like I get everything done every week. Some weeks I might get only 50% done. But mentally, I prefer not to react to things as they come. Instead, I have a plan. I map them out and I'm aware of what I need to do. And then once the week is over, I look back and reflect and I ask myself, "Did I have a good week? Did I achieve my goals for the week? How can I tweak and evolve from there? So this weekly plan fits into the quarterly plan and then in the quarter I do the same thing and I reflect on what is happening.

Ruhul: Sounds very effective. I do a similar thing but I use very different metrics. That was the last question. Any parting thoughts? 

Mohan: Everyone is different. Seeing the way I live my life, some people think I'm crazy and overly micro-managing my life. There will always be a camp of people who will look at you and the way you're doing things won't make any sense to them. But there is also a camp of people that you will look at and think that the way you do things makes sense.

So it is important for everyone to not only read about what other people are doing but also try things out. The more you try, the more you experiment, and the more you give yourself the opportunity to do it, that's the only way you figure out what makes sense for you. If it doesn't work for you, it doesn't make you a failure or a bad person. 

It's the same thing with entrepreneurship. Not everyone is destined to be a founder. You can try being one, but you have to realize what your skill sets are, and whether you are good at it or not.

The same thing happens with ideas. The same thing happens with relationships. The same thing happens with books. Like there have been multiple times when I have been recommended a book. But when I read the book, I did not really enjoy it.

But you have to try things out before deciding if it works for you or not. 

The parting message for everyone is that try as many things as possible, as quickly as possible. When you have a quarterly system, it allows you to reflect back and improve.

Ruhul: Thank you for being generous with your time and insight, Mohan. I truly appreciate you taking the time, it is like giving a small part of your life because all we have is time. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. Take care.

Mohan: Thanks for having me and asking me very thought-provoking questions. Take care.

Everyone is different. Seeing the way I live my life, some people think I'm crazy and overly micro-managing my life. There will always be a camp of people who will look at you and the way you're doing things won't make any sense to them. But there is also a camp of people that you will look at and think that the way you do things makes sense. So it is important for everyone to not only read about what other people are doing but also try things out. The more you try, the more you experiment, and the more you give yourself the opportunity to do it, that's the only way you figure out what makes sense for you.

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

In-depth business & tech coverage from Dhaka

Stories exclusively available at FS

About FS

Contact Us